By Jean Marie Takouleu (first published by Afrik21).

Gabon’s Special Economic Zone (SEZ), Nkok has become a real hub for the trade and processing of timber cut in the various logging concessions granted by the Government of Gabon.

The TraCer-Nkok agency has been set up to ensure the control of wood traded in the SEZ. Initiated by the Gabon Special Economic Zone (GSEZ), the management of the agency has been entrusted to the Forêt Resources Management (FRM) group and the Gabonese non-governmental organisation (NGO).

Logging accounted for about 5% of Gabon’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017. Image credit: IMD

Logging accounted for about 5% of Gabon’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017. The sector’s growth is driven by the authorities’ decision to ban the export of logs in 2010 while encouraging the construction of wood processing plants. Even if the 20% of GDP bar set by the Gabonese government for 2020 is far from being reached, many observers note the dynamism of the timber sector, boosted by the authorities’ desire to move towards the sustainable exploitation of Gabon’s forests.

The Special Economic Zone (SEZ) of Nkok, established by the authorities on 1126 hectares, 27km from Libreville, is now the main platform where new wood processing plants are concentrated, around 50 in 2019. Wood processing has in fact become the main activity of the Nkok SEZ. This situation has prompted its manager, Gabon Special Economic Zone (GSEZ), to adopt a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) approach for the wood sector.

It is in this context that the TraCer initiative has been set up by GSEZ to ensure the traceability of wood processed and sold in the SEZ. “It is very important to know whether the wood sold in the zone meets the legal requirements for sustainable forestry. A due diligence system (SDR) for risk analysis had to be put in place,” says Sylvie Boldrini, the CSR manager of GSEZ, a subsidiary of Arise Integrated Industrial Platforms (Arise IIP). As developers of the SEZ, we are also timber traders, which is why we wanted this risk analysis to be carried out by an independent body,” she adds.

The management of Nkok’s TraCer agency is thus entrusted to Forêt Ressources Management (FRM) Gabon, a subsidiary of the FRM Group, which specialises in sustainable forest management. Since the agency’s creation on 1 October, 2018, the consulting firm has been working with the non-governmental organisation (NGO) Brainforest based in Libreville, the Gabonese capital. Any supplier who wants to sell wood within the Nkok SEZ must first obtain a free approval from the TraCer agency. Concretely, the agency requires documents proving that the company is registered in Gabon, that it pays its employees’ social security contributions, etc. Above all, the logger must show that he respects the Gabonese forestry code, i.e. that he has a management plan for his logging concession. He must also guarantee the traceability of his logs”, explains Sylvie Boldrini.

In addition to analysing the traceability of the wood supplied by logging companies, the TraCer team also visits logging concessions to ensure that the elements provided through the documents are consistent with the reality on the ground. They check that each number written on the log corresponds to the stump of the tree cut. If everything matches up, the supplier receives an approval valid for one year,” says the GSEZ CSR manager. According to Franck Sakabagnagna of the TraCer agency, each log entering the SEZ is registered in a database, which facilitates its traceability.

Since the launch of TraCer on the first of October 2018, the wood traded and processed in the SEZ has been certified by TraCer Nkok. To date, the due diligence system ensures that there is little or no risk of illegal log supply in the SEZ. According to Alexandre Westeel, TraCer’s coordinator, the due diligence system (SDR) is thus making an important contribution to the development of good practices among Gabonese forestry operators.

The Nkok Special Economic Zone, which processes much of the wood cut in Gabon’s forests, supports the sustainable timber harvesting policy advocated by the Gabonese government, thanks to the CSR of its manager. The authorities of this Central African country would like to replace the share of oil in GDP (22.1% in 2017 according to the World Bank) with revenues from sustainable timber exploitation.

In a recent release, Lee White, Gabon’s minister of the Environment and Forests, even indicated that he is working on a strategy for the development of the ‘forest-wood’ sector that will see the establishment of forest plantations and the creation of more than 50 000 jobs over five years. A policy that should in the long-term help to avoid the depletion of the resource and thus enable better preservation of biodiversity in Gabon.